Ready to make the jump and purchase a tri bike? When my time first came about, I spent months analyzing and nit-picking every bike on the market. I suffered from analysis paralysis big time. (Analysis paralysis is when you over-analyze something to the point where a decision is never made.) With my first Ironman only two months away, I finally said “Forget this, I’m getting a bike today” (some words may have been changed for this post). I’ll share what I learned going through the process.
The very first thing you should do is set your budget. Unless you have deep pockets, setting a budget will narrow down your choices right off the bat. When setting your budget keep in mind that you’ll probably have to buy pedals and a few accessories in addition to the bike. High-end bikes don’t come with pedals, and if they do, the pedals won’t be anything you’ll want to ride with.
For your first bike, I would suggest buying from your local bike shop (LBS). Your LBS should give you a basic fitting with the purchase and almost always offer free adjustments/tune-ups. If you are unable to perform bike maintenance yourself, those tune-ups can really start to add up at $40-$60 a pop. The savings you get from buying a used bike from a private seller will go quickly at that rate. Let’s not forget about the fitting either, if you are going to drop a pile of cash on a bike, you’d better make sure it fits properly. You’re not going to get that from a private seller either. Another thing to mention about your LBS is that they might let you exchange your bike if you aren’t happy with it after riding it a few times. That assurance is nice to have when spending a lot of money.
Now that you know how much you’re going to spend at your local bike shop, let’s talk about the bike itself. You may have heard the phrase “this house has good bones.” It works with tri bikes as well. Components and accessories can be swapped out and changed, but your “bones” or the frame, should be the best you can get. Carbon fiber (carbon) is light and strong and is basically the standard frame material for all tri/tt bikes. Carbon has be around for awhile now and is affordable enough to be available on most, if not every entry level bike.
Don’t get caught up with branding and who is riding what. A bike that works for someone else may not fit you properly. Go ride as many bikes as you can and pick the one that feels best to you. You are going to be spending a lot of time on the bike training, a bike that fits you properly and feels good is imperative.
After you have a frame or model picked out that you like. You might notice the same model varies widely in price. You might wonder what is causing that fluctuation. It’s either going to be the wheels or the components on the bike. When I say components, I’m mainly referring to the derailleurs, shifters, and cassettes. Component groups usually come in three versions. There are probably nicer marketing terms for them, but I’m just going to say low, mid and high. Besides price, the main differences between the group levels are weight and shifting precision. I might argue, that with bar-end shifters most of the shifting precision falls onto you, who manually controls when and where the chain stops. So, that leaves us with price and weight being the remaining factors. Like everything in cycling, the lighter it is the more expensive it is. I’d suggest getting the low end components and put the savings towards the frame/wheels. Components are easy to swap out and you’ll have to down the road when they wear out. So, you can easily upgrade later if you’re not happy.
You’ve picked your frame/model and you’ve saved money buy going with the lower end components, now onto wheels. Wheels deserve a blog post of their own, I’m just going to skim over them here. Being that you’re looking at entry level bikes, I’m going to assume you don’t have a pair of $3,000 carbon fiber, aero wheels sitting around. Wheels, like components, are going to vary widely in price. As I just mentioned, they can cost as much, if not more than your bike itself. For your entry level bike, you are going to want wheels that are light and durable. Durability is important since you will be training on them as well as racing on them.
If you picked a frame/model with lower end components and have some money left over, ask your retailer if they will let you upgrade the wheels on the bike you’re looking at. Sometimes, bike shops will let you trade the wheels in and pay the difference on another set of wheels. If you can’t upgrade, don’t fret. Wheels are about the easiest thing to swap out on your bike. When I got my first bike, I stuck with the stock wheels, knowing I could rent race wheels for the race.
By the way, you can also try the trade-up tactic with the saddle if you are not happy with it.
Prices are negotiable. Similar to automobiles, bike prices are up for negotiation. It doesn’t hurt to ask if that’s the best price the shop can offer or to try and get some accessories thrown into the purchase.
Look at last year’s models. Bike shops are often happy to get these off their floor and will make you a great deal if you take it off their hands. Usually, the only thing that is going to differ from year to year is the paint job. Like autos, once a manufacturer has a model/frame out, they’ll use it a few years before redesigning.
I looked at older models for the last road bike I purchased and I was able to save $600 off the original price and get $200 in store credit for purchasing an older model. That allowed me to get a bike with mid-grade components that was originally outside of my budget and accessorize it to where it was ready to ride the second I got it home.
Buy from your local bike shop. Get a basic fitting. Try the bikes out. Start with the low-end components and upgrade later. Stock wheels should be fine. If you can upgrade them straight away, great. Look at last year’s models.
When you get your bike home, stop looking at bikes. You’re done. You don’t want buyer’s remorse to kick in by wondering if you should have gone with a different model or waiting until next year’s model new and improved model comes out. Take your bike out for a spin and enjoy the stares by envious riders that you’ll now be on the receiving end of.